Dan Drake’s memory needs to be remembered in some concrete, everlasting way at Green High School.
That is what this column is all about.
I’m not going to get up on a podium and pound the lectern with this message. That’s not the right way to do it. Screaming at people doesn’t get your point across. It just makes those in the audience cross, and ambivalent.
Secondly, it’s not the way I do things. I’m too old to act like some kind of demagogue.
Thirdly, finally and most importantly, that’s not the way Coach Dan, who passed away Feb. 4 at the age of 79 after a long illness, would want it done. Actually, he’s somewhere now and, as he looks down on this, hating that it’s being done at all, because he fought like crazy – from the moment he came to Green, and moreso as the accomplishments, championships and accolades kept coming and coming from near and far at a breakneck pace – to put himself out there in any away, shape or form. It was, as former Michigan head coach – and Barberton native – Bo Schembechler so famously once said, “The team. The team. The team.”
Plus Coach Dan was a gentleman, and a gentle man, who abhorred talking at anything above a normal conversational tone and volume.
But sometimes, the “better” good is when someone stands up for a guy like him, whether he likes it or not, and lets everyone knows what the deal is. And with Coach Dan, the deal is that he was iconic. He was that good of a head football coach in his 17-year tenure with the Bulldogs from 1972-88.
In fact, he’s the closest the Suburban League has ever come – perhaps in any sport, not just football – to having a Bill Belichick type in that, over an extended period of time, no one could beat him with any kind of consistency. He won titles with whatever group he had – all different types, really -- and when he didn’t win, he came very close to doing so.
When you’re at a public school and you get only those players who live in the district, winning a lot for a lot of years is extraordinarily tough. So what Coach Dan did was extraordinary.
How do I know that for sure? Because I covered it in my first go-around with The Suburbanite, which began 42 years ago. Because I saw it with my own two eyes. Because I talked back then to people who regularly saw it, too. All of us agreed about who – and what – Dan Drake was.
When I returned to The Suburbanite about seven years ago, it was quite by accident. I became aware that Dave Douglas, a special coach and physical education instructor in the Manchester school district from way back when, had passed away in Florida. I knew – I don’t know how or why I knew, exactly, but I just knew – that no one at the paper at the time had ever heard of him simply because they weren’t around when he was. So I called the editor and told her that I felt compelled to tell Dave’s story. Whether she was ever going to pay me for it was not even on my mind. I just wanted her to print it, because I knew that there were others like me who remembered Dave, and moreso that it was the right thing to do.
The piece was very well-received – not because I did a great job of writing it, but because the material was great.
And with that story, a stint at the paper was born. Since then, I have always thought my primary responsibility at the paper, other than drawing an audience and holding it for as long of a period of time as I possibly could, was to tell the stories of those whose memories have faded into history.
I got that same feeling about Coach Dan as I began writing the third paragraph of this column. So it became very clear to me that, because I have this forum and the life experiences that are evidenced by the gray hair, that I was the best guy to make a compelling case for him.
That’s a lot of pressure, but I’m trying to do the very best job that I can. More than anything, I hope it suffices.
I was sitting in church very early one recent morning waiting for Mass to start when, out of nowhere, I had an epiphany. I realized what my trump card was in trying to convince people – especially the people in the know at Green – just how noteworthy Dan Drake really was, and, for my money, still is, for that matter.
I did a series decades ago in The Suburbanite on Coach Dan and the 6-2 defense he began formulating when he arrived at Green as an assistant in 1962. Back then, players lined up in basic defensive alignments and just stood there, right in those spots, until the ball was snapped, giving quarterbacks and opposing coaches plenty of time to read what was going on and come up with a way to beat it. Play after play after play, game after game after game, season after season after season, those defenses lined up that way, like statues.
Drake theorized – and correctly so – that if he moved players around in unpredictable ways, especially as the quarterback was barking out the signals and trying to figure out what was happening across the line of scrimmage, it would create confusion – perhaps even lots of confusion. So Drake had his two linebackers bounce all around, concealing what they were really up to and thus making it very hard for offensive linemen to identify who they should be blocking.
I read a story that about 25 years later, in the late 1980s, NFL assistant coach Dick LeBeau, a London, Ohio, native, former Ohio State player and a 1959 NFL Draft pick of the Cleveland Browns, began sketching on napkins what would become the zone blitz of the Pittsburgh Steelers. It’s not really any different than the 6-2 with stunting linebackers. That’s how much Coach Dan was ahead of the curve, so much so, in fact, that, historically speaking, he was almost lapping the field.
Dick LeBeau is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
So, too, will Bill Belichick be five years after he retires – if he ever does retire.
Understanding that, then, doesn’t Dan Drake deserve something pretty cool, say, for instance, the field at Green being named in his honor?
How about Dan Drake Field at Green Memorial Stadium?
Yeah, I like that. I like that a lot.
Does anyone else like it? Is anyone listening?
We shall see.